Haiti relief effort needs more co-ordination, says Czech Radio man after stint in Port-au-Prince

Photo: CTK

Over two weeks after Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, the situation in the country remains one of the world’s biggest news stories, with aid organisations and soldiers struggling to distribute food, water and medical care to many hundreds of thousands of people who have been left homeless. Czech Radio journalist Pavel Polák arrived in Haiti four days after the earthquake and reported on the situation there for over a week. After his return to Prague, I spoke to Polák about his experiences.

“What I could see there followed what was on TV, what was written about the situation in Haiti. But what I saw there was, I would say, softer than how it was described in the media. But it was very hard as well. Corpses were lying under the debris, but no longer on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Photo: CTK
“People were really desperate, they were hungry, thirsty. That was the main picture that I saw on the very first day I arrived in Port-au-Prince.”

Was there any one moment that stood out for you?

“I must say that when I landed in Santo Domingo, because my journey started in Santo Domingo…because it wasn’t possible to land in Port-au-Prince, I just planned what had to be done. I didn’t have any emotional thoughts about what could happen…I was working like a machine, this has to be done, I have to be careful, and so on.

Photo: CTK
“But I experienced one thing, and that was the smell of rotten bodies. Now there are thousands of corpses lying under the debris and this sweet smell that was in the city was something I couldn’t really get used to.”

There has been some criticism of the manner in which the relief operation has been carried out. What’s your perspective on that?

“In the very first days the main problem was logistic; there was no problem with relief material and with relief help…Another problem was co-ordination, because every humanitarian aid agency was just acting as one unit and I think it should have been more organised. It would definitely help.”